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Ugandans stranded in Middle East as companies close

FILE PHOTO: Ugandans at Entebbe Airport travelling to Middle East in search for jobs.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Ugandans working in the Middle East are among the millions of people stranded after companies temporarily closed down because of the outbreak of COVID -19.

The governments in many Middle Eastern countries have ordered for mandatory shutdowns to slow down the spread of the virus.

But even before the mandatory shutdown, the economies of these countries had already taken a nose dive forcing many businesses to close. For example, the United Arab Emirates which is a global tourism hub has been affected by a drastic fall in the number of visitors. Hotels and restaurants, shopping malls which employ majority of Ugandans are now either closed or have scaled-down because of low business.

A number of Ugandans living in UAE who spoke to URN said they don’t know what to do next. “The restaurant I have been working with in Abu Dhabi closed last week due to COVID -19. I have no money because I have been sending it home, I don’t know what to do next,” said Ibrahim Kasujja, a Ugandan living in UAE. He added that at the shelter where he lives, there are many people in a similar situation like him. “My brother was going to send me money this week to return to Kampala now I heard that President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has closed the airport,” said Kasujja.

Salma Nakibuuka, a waitress in Dubai said that she is also stranded and doesn’t know what to do next. “I had no plans of going back to Uganda anytime soon because my contract ends in 2022. But our restaurant terminated our contracts last week because it was no longer making enough money to have all of us work,” said Nakibuuka. She added that some of her colleagues came back to Uganda before the president issued the order closing the airport.

Denis Kiwanuka, an airport cleaner at the Dubai International Airport also said he has been rendered jobless after the airport scaling down on its activities. “We have been told to go home but they are only paying us the basic salary of 800 Dirham (800,000). This is just enough for rent. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to look after myself,” said Kiwanuka. He added that the same fate befell the security guards who have been working at some of these closed businesses. For example, he said, Transguard, a security company recently gave air tickets to over 300 security guards who have been working in UAE to return to Uganda.

For Charles Mutumba, an air controller at Dubai International Airport, they’ve resorted to prayer. “I think there are many COVID -19 cases in Dubai than those publicly admitted. Life has come to standstill not only because of the fear of contracting the virus but how to survive without a job for we don’t know how long it will take,” said Mutumba.

Efforts to speak to the Minister of state for Labour, Mwesigwa Rukutana were fruitless as his known telephone numbers were switched off by press time. However, Lawrence Egulu, the commissioner in charge of employment services at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development said he wasn’t aware of any stranded Ugandan in the Middle East.

“We haven’t been contacted by anyone that they are stranded. We monitor their welfare and we repatriate them in case of any emergence or distress but I haven’t received anything from anybody in that regard,” added Egulu. In a statement last week, the State Minister for Labour, Mwesigwa Rukutana said they had put a ban on labour externalization to countries such as United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Somalia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan and Iraq for 32 days. “In the meantime, our ministry will continue to perform other assignments required to the externalization of labour, although no one will be cleared for travel,” Rukutana said in a statement.

President Museveni on Saturday ordered for the closure of Entebbe International Airport and all Uganda’s borders in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country. On the very day, the Minister of Health, Jane Ruth Aceng declared that Uganda had registered one COVID-19 case from a man who was returning from a business trip to Dubai.

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